Showing posts with label Benjamin Grosvenor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Benjamin Grosvenor. Show all posts

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Benjamin Grosvenor at the Wigmore Hall - review

My review of Benjamin Grosvenor's astonishing recital on Monday night, for International Piano Magazine. Contains names I do not throw around without seriously good reason.

http://www.rhinegold.co.uk/magazines/international_piano/news/int_piano_news_story.asp?id=1873

The concert went out live on BBC Radio 3 and is available to listen to on the iPlayer for the rest of the week: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03cnd6y

Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A good night at the Gramophones...

A wee bit disorientating to find the Gramophone Awards shifted a) to mid September, b) to LSO St Luke's. But a fine venue it proved, hipper and airier than the good old Dorchester, snazzy in the pink spotlights which illuminated the heat-haze of some 115 candles.

Gone were the sexist comments of yesteryear, ditched in favour of fine words about the power of music to enhance lives and bring people together, and dedications of awards to a variety of parents, teachers and young music-lovers around the world. Gone, too, the all-male line-up of last time: Artist of the Year went to Alison Balsom, Record of the Year to Patricia Kopatchinskaja's disc of Hungarian violin concertos. Guitarist Xuefei Yang was there to perform some Britten songs with Ian Bostridge and Hungarian violinist Katalin Kokas played Bartok duos with her husband, Barnabas Kelemen. Not all good on the sexism front, though, as Decca's little film (they were record of the year) had to be started off by a simpering dollybird of a soprano who is perfectly good, but. No sign of Kaufmann or Calleja having to be anything but their good selves in the later images.

Many much-loved figures among the great and good were present, notably Julian Bream who received the Lifetime Achievement Award and thanked the industry, with sparkles intact, for recognising that he was not a bad guitarist.

It was a particular good night for Bartok, whose Violin Concerto No.2 played by Patricia K was Record of the Year and whose music for violin and piano played by Barnabas Kelemen and Zoltan Kocsis won the Chamber award. Wonderful to see Barnabas pulling in at the top - regular JDCMB readers will know that I've been shouting out about him for quite a while. He is not only a magnificent player technically, but the most thorough and exacting of all-round musicians in that fabulous tradition that Hungary's Franz Liszt Academy has long championed: pure, penetrating, powerful. The Gramophone Awards are a fine way indeed to be put firmly on the map, and with luck megastardom should await. Hear Barnabas, Katalin and their string quartet at the Wigmore on Sunday morning and get his recording here. I am hoping to go and see them in Budapest later in the year. (Above, Barnabas is interviewed by Classic FM's Jamie Crick.)

A fine night, too, for pianists. We had a performance from Benjamin Grosvenor, whose next album is due out in February - exact content still under wraps, but to judge from his glinting, whimsical Albeniz and Shostakovich transcriptions, there'll be some intriguing Golden-Age-style stuff on it. He handed over the Young Artist of the Year title to 18-year-old Jan Lisiecki, who played Bach's Partita No.1 exquisitely. Steven Osborne was Instrumentalist of the Year and treated us to a short extract from his winning disc, Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

No pics by me this time because my phone was out of juice (as was I) after a lengthy day going to Bristol and back for, er, the BBC Music Magazine Awards jury panel meeting. I've been ploughing through a very, very, very large pile of discs for that. A topic for another time.

UPDATE, 4.15pm: One spotted James Rhodes leaving early. Perhaps this was why: http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2013/sep/18/james-rhodes-classical-music-needs-an-enema-not-awards?CMP=twt_gu
It didn't help, I might add, that they took 2 hrs to present 6 awards, and no food materialised til 10pm.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Happy 21st, Benjamin Grosvenor!

That Andy Murray of British pianism, Benjamin Grosvenor, is 21 today. We wish him the happiest of happy birthdays and can't wait to hear the new album he's apparently recording right now, up in Suffolk. (PS - anyone spot Mitsuko Uchida in the slebs rows at the Wimbledon final yesterday?)

In the meantime, here he is in performance last year, playing Rachmaninov's Etude-Tableau Op.39 No.5.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Newsround

Today The Guardian has run Charlotte Higgins's interview with Martin Roscoe, who talks in depth about what really happened when he tried to blow the whistle about Layfield. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/13/michael-brewer-rncm-teachers-story-martin-roscoe

But also, they report that another Chet's/RNCM teacher, violinist Wen Zhou Li, has been "arrested on suspicion of sex offences". http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/14/chetham-violin-teacher-arrested

Elsewhere, there is slightly better news.

While we were away last week, Harriet Harman intervened to stop Newcastle Council's plans to cut its arts budget by 100%. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/feb/11/harriet-harman-newcastle-arts-budget

Also, education secretary Michael Gove was forced to drop his noxious EBacc project and is now looking instead at a reformed version of GCSEs with an eight-subject base that may even include music. Triumph is scented over at the brilliant and tireless ISM, but the fight won't be over yet.

And much better news: Benjamin Grosvenor has been nominated for The Times Breakthrough Award at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards. Over the Pond, David Patrick Stearns has been listening to the star wars of the 20-something new generation pianists and lets us know that Trifonov's Carnegie Hall debut recital last week was sold out. But he picks Benjamin as the tip-top "artistic space alien": "Never have I not heard him boldly re-imagining the music he plays in ways that made complete sense, had conviction right down to the smallest detail but was completely unlike anything I’ve previously heard. How such depth of brilliance could be housed by somebody so young is enough to make you believe that reincarnation can come with accumulated wisdom." 


Sunday, January 06, 2013

OK, let's get Britten year off to a flying start

[UPDATE, MONDAY MORNING: COME AND HEAR BENJAMIN GROSVENOR PLAY THIS VERY CONCERTO AT THE BARBICAN WITH THE BBCSO THIS VERY FRIDAY, 11 JANUARY. BROADCAST LIVE ON BBC RADIO 3. INFO & BOOKING HERE.]

Here's a big Britten favourite of mine. It's the Piano Concerto, written when the composer was all of 25 years old. He had just met Peter Pears and not yet sloped off to the States. Britten, who was a very brilliant pianist when he wanted to be, was the soloist in the world premiere at the Proms and apparently finished the piece just in time for the first rehearsal. It's a wonderfully 1930s sound, full of an Art Deco glitz akin to Poulenc, Ravel or Prokofiev, and I've never understood why it isn't played more often. The most recognisably Britteny movement, of course, is the Intermezzo, which was a late replacement by way of slow movement and dates from 1945, hence contemporaneous with Peter Grimes.

Here's a performance of it to brighten a gloomy January Sunday: another Benjamin - Grosvenor, this time - at the Proms 2011, with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. Benjamin G was 19. Incidentally, if you're wondering where he is at the moment, he's just been wowing Seattle with a spot of Rachmaninov.








Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Encore un prix pour Benjamin Grosvenor

Golden boy of the piano Benjamin Grosvenor has yet another trophy for his already buckling shelves: on Monday he was presented with the 'Jeune Talent' prize for his debut recital disc on Decca at the Diapason Awards 2012 in Paris (the French equivalent of the Gramophone Awards). The ceremony was broadcast yesterday on Radio France.

This concert performance of his has popped up on Youtube: Liszt's Gnomengreigen, which he's been playing as an encore in recitals this season. Do listen - it is breathtaking.


Friday, November 02, 2012

Benjamin Grosvenor's Southbank debut

As you know, Benjamin Grosvenor, 20, is the darling of every pianophile in Britain and beyond. We were there in force to hear his debut recital at the Southbank's Queen Elizabeth Hall on Wednesday night, which gratifyingly was packed out.

Benjamin Grosvenor as a performer, it has to be said, is the absolute antithesis of everything that most serious piano fans loathe about certain older, more celebrity-conscious performers who pull in the crowds. He has a modest, unspoilt presence on the platform, the informal (red shirt, dark trousers) look of the lad next door and a rather surprised smile when he spots there are people listening to him and clapping, as if he hadn't quite expected it. He's a smallish youth with enormous and beautiful hands that look almost incongruous - as if they've been grafted on from the spirit of Friedman or Moiseiwitsch.

It's his virtuosity, delicacy, sparkle and whirligig whooshes of inspiration that tend to be noticed first, but perhaps something else is even more vital: he is not afraid to play quietly. Instead of projecting every phrase out to the back row, he focuses on intense beauty of tone in the pianissimo range and makes the audience come to him, drawing them in to a type of enhanced listening experience. Scarily few musicians dare to do this today, a few exceptions being Zimerman, Perahia and Anderszewski - good company indeed. He doesn't overpedal: clarity remains uppermost, and in his Bach Fourth Partita, which opened the concert, touches of pedal served just to enhance a resonance or mark the ambience of a rhythm here and there.

In the Bach, too, he homed in on the exact quality that makes its Allemande so mesmerising. This movement is a piece of such beauty that it wouldn't have disgraced the St Matthew Passion; its increasingly florid melody has about it a meditative, stream-of-consciousness quality of improvisation that seems to exist in a state of grace, in every sense. Benjamin caught the precise nuance of its still heart and inner radiance. This takes some doing. It shone beside a fleet Overture and Gigue, a lively, supple Courante, and much elegance in the brief extras with which Bach peppers this most expansive of his keyboard partitas - all of it enhanced by a keen structural intelligence which found the strength of line and harmonic progressions underlying every filigree twist and turn. If I wished he'd played the repeats, it was just because this was music-making of such excellence that it would have been nice to hear it all again.

The Chopin F sharp minor Polonaise and the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise revealed something more problematic. For some reason, Grosvenor was playing a Yamaha. This powerful piano firm has, of course, developed its instruments considerably in the past 20 years or so, but it is still rare to see one on a London concert platform, and its tone did not prove especially welcome. Benjamin's personal sound, which is intensely beautiful with never a crash or thump, was still there, without a doubt. But I've heard him play quite a number of times before, and I missed something that he usually provides: colour. It is obvious to anyone who follows his progress closely that variety of colour is paramount to him. Yet the Yamaha tone, which tends to the overbright and even the glassy at times, just does not encompass the palette of mellowness and myriad shadings that he's capable of. The Bach worked well enough on it, but the Chopin needed that range. This was slightly frustrating for anyone who's heard Benjamin conjour those colours and therefore wished he would be able to do so on such a vital occasion as this. Presumably he had, in some way, shape or form, chosen the instrument - or maybe he is too modest to make a fuss about it? Please, someone, give the boy the chance to choose a favourite Steinway himself next time?

For the second half, Benjamin kept up the dance theme established first in the Bach with a selection of rare pianophilia delights: a selection of Scriabin's early mazurkas and a heady Russian waltz, eight utterly enchanting waltzes by Granados (which are a treat for any keen pianist to read through - you can find some of them in a recent issue of Pianist magazine), and the whole lot topped off by Schulz-Evler's deliciously dizzy virtuoso transcription of The Blue Danube. The charm of Benjamin's phrasing, his zippy lightness of touch, sprinkled a heart-warming trail of fairydust across the byways of this enchanting and original selection. He provided three encores, too: Godowsky's transcription of the famous Albeniz tango, then Liszt's Gnomenreigen - very fast, these gnomes, enjoying a whirlwind, impish outing as if testing the capabilities of a new pianistic Ferrari - and Benjamin's party-piece, Morton Gould Boogie-Woogie Etude, to close.

Piano aside, it was an evening that nobody will forget in a hurry. As my colleague Michael Church comments in his review for The Independent, "with virtuosity of this calibre, allied to a probing musical intelligence, the sky's the limit."

Meanwhile, it is lovely to see that Benjamin has become an "ambassador" for the superb London Music Masters' Bridge Project, designed to encourage instrumental music tuition in inner-city primary schools. Here's what they said, announcing it the other night:

London Music Masters (LMM) announces the multi-award-winning British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor as its ambassador to champion the cause of music in schools.  The former child prodigy, whorecently became one of the youngest ever winner of two Gramophone Awards and won the ‘Critics Choice Award’ at the Classic Brits, will act as a role model for children on LMM’s Bridge Project in some of London’s most deprived boroughs. Born to a musical family in Southend-on-Sea, Grosvenor is keen to encourage children to learn music at an early age and  for every child to have this opportunity:
'It was a great pleasure to visit Jessop Primary School and to witness the remarkable work being done by LMM there. It was touching to see the enthusiasm the children demonstrated for their instruments and for the learning process, and I hope that as an ambassador for this charity I can help them with their important work.'
LMM Bridge Project
LMM’s Bridge Project was established five years ago to make classical music accessible to all - by providing a sustained programme of high-quality music instrumental tuition in inner-city primary schools.  Working with children from financially disadvantaged and culturally diverse backgrounds, the Bridge Project places music at the heart of the school curriculum from an early age and enables interaction with exceptional musicians.  The Bridge Project’s driving goal is to address the lack of cultural and ethnic diversity among classical music professionals and audiences - making music an instrument of change.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Socks for the Lilac Fairy?


The other day the Royal Opera House held a Q&A session on Twitter with two of the Royal Ballet's top stars, husband and wife team Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares. Fans tweeted their questions and at 5pm Marianela - everyone's favourite Lilac Fairy and Odette right now - and her lovely resident prince picked a selection and answered them online. The questions ranged from favourite roles/choreographers to issues about dancing around difficult sets to the challenges of a dancer's physical regime. One fan even asked Marianela what her shoe size is... because she wanted to knit her some socks.

It struck me that I've never heard a classical music fan offer to knit socks, or indeed anything else, for a favourite soloist. A test tweet I put out, pondering why nobody's yet offered to provide Lang Lang with home-made gloves, produced a flood of snide witticisms. One person said mittens would do better. Another quipped that perhaps Schumann's hand-stretcher would do him some good.

OK, so perhaps Lang Lang [left] wasn't the best choice... and it was probably a little unfair on our dancers... But the attitudes of ballet fans and music fans to the top practitioners of their art is so different that I started wondering why.

Ballet fans queue outside the stage door for autographs. They send or even throw flowers (well, they used to, pre recession). They offer to knit socks. They want to know what the stars eat, or don't eat. They're disappointed yet concerned when a favourite dancer is off with an injury; they wish them a speedy recovery. They trot back to the same production time and again to test out the different casts and enjoy the compare-and-contrast process (our friends at The Ballet Bag often post about this). There's a high degree of sympathy and rather a lot of love. Ballet fans seem to be seriously nice about their enthusiasm.

And classical music fans? Be too successful a musician and they start to hate you. Be a woman and you risk having to fight a patronising, sexist atmosphere. Bring out a recording and someone will tear it to bits online if not in print. Give a concert and someone will bring in a recording device without your agreement - and the halls won't even stop them. Hold a political opinion and someone tells you to shut up and play, or shreds your musicianship because they don't happen to like your views. Suffer injury or be ill - especially if you're a singer - and you get a reputation for cancelling and letting people down. Hey, they've paid a lot of money for their seats and that apparently means you can't lose your voice even if you have. And you don't get true adulation until you're over 60. Our fans not only don't like their soloists; it often seems they don't even respect them. If you're a fan, be enthusiastic about a favourite performer and you're regarded as a non-critical idiot who's over-impressed, or suffering a post-teenage crush, or second only to a stalker.

Why this discrepancy? Looking at the questions for Marianela and Thiago [right] on Twitter (hashtag #askthedancers), it seems that many come from people who themselves dance, professionally or semi-professionally or just for fun (like me), or did so as kids. They're concerned with issues of daily life: how do you eat, manage injury, spend your spare time if there is any? Ballet fans identify with the dancers. There's always someone they'd like to be, given the chance. They understand the processes better because they do it themselves, or have done at some point.

Now, I'm not saying that concert and opera-goers don't play and sing, because a lot do. Yet the degree of ignorance about what it takes to be a top-flight musician is much more extreme. Anyone can see how devoted, indeed possessed by the profession, a dancer must be; but some concert-goers don't even realise that a pianist has to practise every day ("Do you have a piano at home, then, love?" someone asked a well-known soloist friend of mine. "What's your day job? D'you work in a bank?").

The sheer physicality of musical performance is frequently downplayed in favour of the high-falutin' issues of poetry, philosophy, historically informed whatever, artistic fulfilment and so forth. That means that little consideration is given to, for example, performing conditions. The number of excellent musicians who have to face their craft being hobbled by the effects of freezing cold venues, lack of food or even tea, or lousy, badly-maintained pianos doesn't bear thinking about. International soloists travel much more than star dancers. Nobody seems eager to make air travel any pleasanter anytime soon, but the toll it takes on the body and mind can be severe. Why do we still expect soloists to function like automatons and regard them as unprofessional if they're unable to give 500% in an unheated venue on a snowy day after a long, stressful journey? Our lack of understanding of the profession means that we often don't let them do their best, even though that is all that they want to do.

Perhaps it is time to start communicating a little better regarding the absolute slog involved in a high-level musical career. Injury may not be quite as hefty an issue as it is for dancers, but it is really not that different. Being a professional musician involves intense physical labour, yet the number of performers who suffer serious injury or illness yet are simply denigrated for their own absence is quite alarming.

How to tackle these issues? Ideally, more people should learn to play musical instruments themselves. We need to identify more with the people who perform the music we love, and that means learning their craft from inside. Meanwhile, maybe we need to hold knitting lessons for classical music fans. My first pair of gloves will probably go to Benjamin Grosvenor.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Alma's gift?

Phone call from Simon Usborne at the Indy yesterday asking what I made of the "prodigy" Alma Deutscher, who has just been spotted and tweeted about by Stephen Fry. She's seven. She plays both the violin and the piano extremely well and has composed an "opera" as well as a piano sonata or two. Read his feature here.

So, here she is. What do you make of her?



My feeling is that she's very good, for her age, but I don't think she is an actual "prodigy", let alone, heaven help us, a "new Mozart". She's a seriously gifted kid who's been very well taught (and whose "shy and softly spoken" father hasn't demurred from uploading her efforts to Youtube). She's having lessons at the Menuhin School, which is exactly what should be happening. A top-notch training, good nurturing and please, no record companies yet, and she could become a fabulous young artist...in seven to ten years' time.

A prodigy in the Benjamin Grosvenor or Evgeny Kissin sense tends to play with both technique and musical maturity far beyond their years. Alma is certainly advanced, but she doesn't do that.



As for "writing an opera"...Now, look. I first tried to write a "novel" when I was 12, and I finished it, and it was about 50 pages long, and I was very excited that I'd managed it, and I showed it to Mum and Dad and they were thrilled, as of course they would be, but we didn't have Youtube or E-books then and nobody would have dreamed of putting it out there for all and sundry, and I'm very glad because it would be bloody embarrassing now. It's great to do things young, but one day you really are not going to want your starter efforts being gawped at...

More worrying is the fact that where music is concerned, maybe the public is just too ignorant to know the difference any more?

For those who are interested in the life-imitating-art spooky side of novel-writing, I regret to say that Alma's father's name, Guy, is also the name of Alicia's father in Alicia's Gift (which was published in 2007) and of course Alicia's name begins with an A too, and this kind of thing does keep on happening, turning up out of the blue 3-5 years after hitting the page... For the same reason I now know how the Hungarian Dances characters' last conundrum would finally resolve itself.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Gramophone needles

Quite a feast at the Dorchester yesterday for the Gramophone Awards.

First of all, it was Benjamin's big day [left]. Since the BBC has moved many of its TV operations, including the Breakfast news programme, to Salford - about 200 miles away from most of the action, eg. the government, a daft decision if ever there was one - he was up north at crack of dawn to appear there. Then whisked all the way back to London just in time to be catapulted onto live Radio 4, for which The World at One was able to cover the awards since the news of them was out early. Next, into the ballroom to accept two prizes, make a couple of speeches and play two party pieces [below], and receive the goodwill of the music industry, which was his by by bucketload.



The indefatigable James Jolly more than lived up to his name as he presented the prizes, aided and abetted by Eric Whitacre and "Sopranielle" de Niese, as someone managed to dub her. Danni treated us to a performance of Lehar's 'Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß', over which our host quipped "I bet they do"... Live music too from the mesmerising violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaya, playing the Bartok Romanian Dances in authentic Romanian Gypsy style; and Granados from Leif Ove Andsnes, who was in town to play at the RFH and came in to collect the chamber music prize, awarded to him and Christian and Tanya Tetzlaff for their glorious  recording of Schumann trios. [Above, he collects his award from Danni.]

There were touching moments aplenty. Think of the filmed interview with Murray Perahia, who scooped the new Piano Prize, proving yet again why genuine musicianship cannot be trumped by anything, ever; or the turbo-charged voice of Joseph Calleja, scooping Artist of the Year. Most moving of all, though, Vaclav Talich's granddaughter came in to accept the historical recording award on his behalf: his Smetana Ma Vlast, given in concert in 1939 two months after the Wehrmacht marched into Prague and featuring a moment in which the audience spontaneously broke into singing the national anthem. There's no other moment like it on disc, said Rob Cowan.

Priceless, too, was the announcement of Record of the Year, which went to the Baroque Vocal category for Schütz's Musikalische Exequien - from the Belgian choir Vox Luminis and its director Lionel Meunier. A towering figure (literally) with a blend of charm and modesty that captured everyone's hearts as he stood, overwhelmed, by the microphone [left], Lionel explained that the whole recording was organised in his kitchen and he could hardly believe he was going to go back to his choir the next day and say "We f***ing got Record of the Year!

Plenty of time for chat, gossip and networking in between, natch: a chance to clink glasses with some and say "Better times ahead?" and others to say "Bravi", and others still to reflect on the growing parallels between two of our greatest tenors now, Calleja and Kaufmann (who pre-recorded a thank-you speech for the Fidelio recording with Abbado and Nina Stemme that took the opera prize) and, respectively, force-of-nature Pavarotti and deep-thinking, dark-toned Domingo. 

Among my most interesting encounters was a discussion with a critic who'd come in from the pop culture world to see what it was all about. He was furious. Why? Because, he says, there's all this incredible music, yet it's somehow been sectioned off and the world at large never gets to hear it! The decision-makers in the British media don't include it as part of culture in general, and they should. It's been ghettoised. And not through any fault of its own - millions of people love it when they have the chance. Why keep it out of the mainstream with some cack-handed inverted snobbery that says the general public isn't capable of appreciating it?

One more Gramophone needle: here's the line-up of winners for the final group photo.


That's right, they're all blokes. 

Violinist Isabelle Faust won the concerto category, to be fair-ish; Tanya Tetzlaff features in the chamber music, and Nina Stemme in Fidelio, but the latter scarcely got a mention while everyone was drooling over Jonas's speech and adulating Claudio Abbado who won the Lifetime Achievement award. The two women who collected awards did so on others' behalf: Talich's granddaughter and Perahia's wife. 

Of course, there's a strong feeling that these awards are for musical achievement alone and gender balance shouldn't matter. In an ideal world, yes, fine. But this isn't one. Given the number of world-class female musicians on the circuit at present, how is it possible that only one-and-two-bits were among the winners of so many major awards? 

I still have the feeling that to be fully recognised as a woman musician, you must work five times as hard as the men and look perfect as well. There's an unfortunate double-bind in the music industry: those charged with selling the artists via image doll up the women as sex symbols, only for a fair number of critics to succumb at once, consciously or otherwise, to the prejudice that "they're being sold on their looks, so they can't be any good". This isn't the way it ought to be. 

I begrudge none of these marvellous male musicians their prizes: each and every one was fully deserved. Yet is it now time to introduce an alternative industry award, like the erstwhile-Orange Prize for Fiction, to boost the wider recognition of female classical musicians on the strength of their artistry, not their looks? Sad to say, but the answer is yes.





Thursday, September 27, 2012

And here are the GRAMOPHONE AWARD WINNERS

Off to the RealLifePoshPlace (as opposed to the JDCMB Cyberposhplace) for a day of celebration and suspense as the Gramophone Awards are announced...oh wait... No suspense, except for Record of the Year. A press release has just plopped into the in-box telling us all the others. Which you'd think kind of defeats the purpose of having the entire UK music business sit in the Dorchester all day...  


But there's some really wonderful news: Benjamin Grosvenor has won both Young Artist of the Year and Instrumental, in the latter category pipping to the post no lesser personages than Stephen Hough and Paul Lewis. That definitely requires something bubbly.
 
Right now I'm busy putting on a smart dress and a bit o' slap, so I'm going to post the press release. Stand by for the full inside report on the goings-on after the event and follow on Twitter at #GramoAwards. I may tweet now and then if I have any reception on the fruityphone.




GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2012 - THE “OSCARS OF CLASSICAL MUSIC”


·         Benjamin Grosvenor becomes youngest artist to achieve double-Award win
·         Joseph Calleja voted ‘Artist of the Year’
·         Claudio Abbado honoured with ‘Lifetime Achievement’ Award
·         Murray Perahia wins new ‘Piano Award’
·         Naïve crowned ‘Label of the Year’
·         ‘Recording of the Year’ to be revealed later today

The Gramophone Awards the world’s most influential classical music prizes – are announced today at London’s Dorchester Hotel in a ceremony co-hosted by two of classical music’s hottest properties: composer and conductor – and professional model – Eric Whitacre, and Danielle de Niese, described by The New York Times as “opera’s coolest soprano”.

James Jolly, Editor-in-Chief of Gramophone said:

With more than 750 new recordings of phenomenal range and quality under consideration for the 2012 Gramophone Awards, coming up with the shortlists and winners has been challenging, but extremely enjoyable. This is an extremely exciting and vibrant time for classical music and the winners announced today represent the best of the best, where the best is a very rich feast indeed.”

The Gramophone Awards 2012, now in their 35th year, are presented in association with Steinway & Sons and EFG International.

The most coveted prize, ‘Recording of the Year’, will be revealed during today’s ceremony and announced this afternoon.

Crowning a magnificent year that saw him become both the youngest soloist to open the BBC Proms and the youngest pianist ever to be signed by Decca, Benjamin Grosvenor now becomes Gramophone’s youngest double-Award winner. He is named Young Artist of the Year and wins the Best Instrumental category for his debut disc of music by Ravel, Chopin and Liszt on Decca. The 20-year-old from Southend-on-Sea has been highly praised for his poetic expression and virtuosity, and this double accolade from Gramophone is another noteworthy badge of honour in his rise to international acclaim.

Joseph Calleja is named Gramophone’s Artist of the Year in the only Award decided by public vote. It rounds off an incredible year for the Maltese tenor, described by Gramophone as “a tenor of uncommon distinction, whose elegance and sense of style are second to none on the operatic stage today.” From performing at the Last Night of the Proms to reaching No. 1 in the Danish pop charts Calleja is now established as a regular at all the leading opera houses in the world, including the Royal Opera House and New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Joseph reaches out to a wide public who respond as much to his open and charming personality as his voice. His latest album ‘Be My Love,’ a tribute to Mario Lanza, became an instant best-seller.

“His vision has left an imprint on every orchestra in Europe” says fellow conductor Daniel Harding, of this year’s Lifetime Achievement winner, Claudio Abbado. Abbado conducts the best orchestras, yet devotes much of his time to nurturing young talent, as founder and music director of the Youth Orchestra of the European Union and the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, as well as artistic director of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and founder and principal conductor of both the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and Italy’s Orchestra Mozart. He has recorded for Deutsche Grammophon since 1967, amassing a discography that includes the entire symphonic works of Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Ravel and more than 20 complete opera recordings.

A new prize for 2012, The Piano Award, goes to one of today’s most respected musicians, Murray Perahia. Gramophone has long celebrated Perahia’s exceptional sensibility, lyricism and naturalness, but in the year that Perahia celebrates 40 years of recording for Sony Classical and its forerunner CBS Masterworks, Gramophone pays special tribute to this exceptional pianist. In addition to the Award, Gramophone has produced a digital magazine that gathers together every Perahia review it has ever published.

Superbly produced, gorgeously packaged recordings of artistic vision and integrity from musicians of the highest calibre, symbolises naïve - Gramophone’s 2012 Label of the Year. Naïve’s artist roster is rich and impressive, from Jordi Savall, Anne-Sofie von Otter and Marc Minkowski with his Musiciens du Louvre, to Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Bertrand Chamayou and Francesco Piemontesi. The label looks set to leave a legacy with its ground-breaking Vivaldi Edition, one of the most ambitious recording projects ever undertaken. Now in its twelfth year, the unprecedented Vivaldi Edition captures on record the entire collection of autograph manuscripts by the composer preserved in Turin’s Biblioteca Nazionale, making up some 450 works and unearthing never-before-heard works along the way.

A special Historic Reissue Award honours an extraordinary 1939 live recording of Smetana’s Má vlast by the Czech Philharmonic under Václav Talich. The extraordinary recording, issued by Supraphon, captures a spontaneous outburst of the Czech national anthem by the audience, symbolising the burning presence of Czech patriotism in a German-occupied Prague.
Winners were also announced across the 15 album categories (see below).
Gramophone has been producing a series of podcasts supporting the Awards at www.gramophone.co.uk and during the month of August, nearly 50,000 were downloaded. Gramophone has also formed retail partnerships with Amazon, i-Tunes and many of the UK’s specialist retailers. iTunes is offering a free sampler featuring Award-winning recordings at www.itunes.com/gramawards.

Gramophone’s Awards issue is published on Friday 28 September with full information about the Awards and winners.

Twitter: #GramoAwards



CATEGORY AWARDS

Baroque Instrumental
Bach: Orchestral Suites. Freiburg Baroque Orchestra / Petra Mullejans; Gottfried von der Goltz [Harmonia Mundi]

The Baroque Instrumental category acknowledges the remarkable level of musicianship that has built on decades of scholarship to create one of the most dynamic areas of the current music scene. The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra is one of the most thrilling ensembles around today, and wins a Gramophone Award for the second year in a row.  Gramophone says: “It’s hard to imagine an eminent Baroque ensemble more temperamentally suited to the esprit of Bach’s four orchestral essays than the Freiburgers.”

Baroque Vocal
Schütz: Musicalische Exequien. Vox Luminis / Lionel Meunier
[Ricercar / RSK]

Along with its Instrumental sister category, Baroque Vocal is one of the most dynamic areas of music-making today and this winner is impeccably performed, recorded and presented. Lionel Meunier and Vox Luminis’s release of Schütz’s Musicalische Exequien “embodies everything a Recording of the Year should be,” according to Gramophone. Schütz’s Baroque masterpiece, which inspired Brahms for his German Requiem, is performed by a vocal ensemble “over-endowed with impressive individual turns.”

Chamber
Schumann: Complete Works for Piano Trio. Christian Tetzlaff (vn); Tanja Tetzlaff (vc);
Leif Ove Andsnes (pf)
[EMI]

Making music with friends is one of the most rewarding pursuits anyone – amateur or professional – can do, and this category allows music lovers to glimpse musicians – most decidedly professional and at the top of their game – getting together and performing in intimate surroundings. Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes – no stranger to the Gramophone Awards – teams up with his regular musical partners Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff in Schumann's music for piano to create what Gramophone describes as “a remarkable achievement.”

Choral
Howells : Requiem. St Paul's Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. Choir of Trinity College,
Cambridge / Stephen Layton
[Hyperion]

Stephen Layton – nominated twice in this category this year – is one of the few choirmasters to work both within the Oxbridge choir tradition (as music director at Trinity College, Cambridge) and outside it (as the director of Polyphony and a much-sought-after guest by many top-league choirs). With his Cambridge choir, he here celebrates one of English music's most appealing composers, Herbert Howells, in a recording described by Gramophone as “a perfect disc of its kind.”

Concerto
Beethoven, Berg: Violin Concertos. Isabelle Faust (vn); Orchestra Mozart/ Claudio Abbado [Harmonia Mundi]

Isabelle Faust, a former Gramophone Young Artist of the Year, returns to the Awards in some very distinguished company, Orchestra Mozart and Claudio Abbado. Here Beethoven is intriguingly coupled with Berg in concerto performances described by Gramophone as “models of artistic and human discipline, meticulously probing Berg’s and Beethoven’s intentions but conveying also a sense that such peaks of human achievement are something you assume from within, not take by force from without.”

Contemporary
Rautavaara: Percussion Concerto. Cello Concerto No. 2. Modificata Colin Currie (perc); Truls
Mørk (vc); Helsinki PO / John Storgårds
[Ondine / Select]

Rautavaara’s magnificent, highly contrasting percussion and cello concertos make for a sensational release. Performed with “coruscating virtuosity” by percussionist Colin Currie and with cellist Truls Mørk “caressing out the subtleties” in the cello concerto, Ondine vividly sets the seal on this superb Contemporary Award-winner. The soloists are supported by John Storgårds – going from strength to strength on the podium – and the excellent Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

DVD Documentary
‘Music Makes A City.’ A film by Owsley Brown III & Jerome Hiler
[Harmonia Mundi]

'Music makes a City', a film made by Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler, tells the scarcely believable, but inspiring, story of the Louisville Orchestra from Kentucky and its belief that new music was the answer to creating wealth and power for the city following the Great Depression and crippling floods there in 1937. The list of composers who were commissioned by the Orchestra reads like a roll-call of 20th-century greats and the film includes interviews with the senior generation of American musicians, from the centenarian Elliott Carter to the near-nonagenarian Ned Rorem. A compelling and beautiful documentary.

DVD Performance
Bruckner: Symphony No. 5. Lucerne Festival Orchestra / Claudio Abbado
[Accentus / Select]

Honouring great musical performance on film, the winning performance “takes a special, even unique, band of musicians and friends who (we can see) love what they do, making chamber music on the grandest scale.” Claudio Abbado revitalised the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in 2003, bringing back to life an ensemble that had first performed in 1938 under Toscanini's baton. Though a part-time group, the orchestra is comprised of some of the finest musicians in Europe, many of them soloists, gathered around a 'core' of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. They are now one of the world's finest orchestras and performances of Bruckner don't get much more compelling than this.

Early Music
Victoria: Sacred Works. Ensemble Plus Ultra / Michael Noone
[Archiv / DG]

The Early Music category has become a showcase of the glorious polyphonic choral music written before 1600, which has become increasingly popular in recent decades. Tomás Luis de Victoria was celebrated in 2011, the 400th anniversary of his birth, and this 10-disc set of around 90 works emerged as a truly stunning tribute to this Renaissance Spanish master. “It is just deeply human and emotional music that [Ensemble Plus Ultra and Michael Noone] perform not only with great tenderness but so simply that one is struck every time – as if for the first time – by its crystalline, uncomplicated beauty.”

Historic
Chopin: Etudes. Maurizio Pollini
[Testament]

The Historic category, reserved for recordings making their first appearance as a commercial release, has put the spotlight on extraordinary treasures and this previously unissued recording of Chopin’s Etudes by Maurizio Pollini is no exception. It was made shortly after the teenage Pollini won the International Chopin Piano Competition in 1960, but became the first in a long line of recordings not to be sanctioned by the notoriously highly strung pianist. As the pianist turned 70 his early thoughts on these works was warmly welcomed by Gramophone, which said: “It is surely astonishing that Pollini could reject his early superfine brilliance, his aristocratic musicianship, his patrician ideal in the Chopin Etudes.”

Instrumental
Chopin, Liszt, Ravel: Piano Works. Benjamin Grosvenor (pf)
[Decca]
Gramophone’s Young Artist of the Year also scoops the Award for Best Instrumental with his album of Chopin, Liszt and Ravel. Full of “coltish exuberance” and a “subtle brand of bravura,” according to reviewer Rob Cowan, Grosvenor’s virtuosity and dexterity are clear, but it is in Liszt’s En rêve that his artistry paints the most beautifully subtle canvas. Grosvenor’s debut disc on Decca topped the specialist classical charts for several weeks.

Opera
Beethoven: Fidelio. Stemme; Kaufmann; Lucerne Festival Orchestra / Claudio Abbado
[Decca]

Claudio Abbado's Fidelio, caught live with his superb Lucerne Festival Orchestra in the pit in 2010, also finds two of today's finest dramatic singers in the central roles: Nina Stemme, today's leading Isolde, and Jonas Kaufmann, today's most accomplished dramatic tenor. Gramophone says: “If Fidelio speaks as no other opera does of the miraculous resilience of the human spirit, Claudio Abbado’s late re-creation of it serves only to compound that miracle.”

Orchestral
Martinů: Symphonies Nos 1-6. BBC Symphony Orchestra / Jiři Bělohlávek
[ONYX / Select]

In what is traditionally one of the most hotly contested categories and  sparring ground of today's major conductors and orchestras, Jiři Bělohlávek triumphs with this superb set of the Martinů symphonies recorded live at the Barbican in 2009/10 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Gramophone critic Mike Ashman firmly dismisses talk of “the grace and elegance of Bělohlávek’s conducting” in these colourfully scored wartime works – though that is clearly there – and highlights “the pain and stress” they often depict which is “superbly realised here”.

Recital
Arias for Guadagni. Iestyn Davies (countertenor); Arcangelo / Jonathan Cohen
[Hyperion]

A superb collection of 18th-century arias written for the castrato Gaetano Guadagni from leading British countertenor Iestyn Davies. Reputedly a “wild and careless singer” when he first came to London, Guadagni’s untapped potential was soon identified and nurtured by Handel, who went on to write some of his finest arias for him. He was so famous that Horace Walpole named a racehorse after him and he was Gluck’s first Orfeo, but it has taken surprisingly long for someone to produce an intelligently chosen and stylishly performed recital exploring his career and Iestyn Davies has done just that.

Solo Vocal
Songs of War. Simon Keenlyside (bar); Malcolm Martineau (pf)
[Sony Classical]

Reactions to this disc’s concept and programme – as well as the sepia soldier on the cover – can be predicted: Simon Keenlyside is more often nominated for the Awards for opera productions, but here he debuts in the Solo Vocal category – a cleverly compiled collection of war songs (predominantly British with a few American additions). “A peak achievement for both, Malcolm Martineau plays superbly and Keenlyside brings a huge dramatic range to these powerful songs by Butterworth, Finzi, Ireland, Vaughan Williams, Kurt Weill and others by pointing out that war celebrates life as well as confronting death.”

About Gramophone

The annual Gramophone Awards, the world’s most influential classical music prizes, given this year in association with Steinway & sons and EFG International, were launched in 1977 by Gramophone magazine (founded in 1923 by Sir Compton Mackenzie).  Available internationally, Gramophone publishes bespoke editions of the magazine for the United States of America, Russia and Brazil.  The Gramophone Player, available at gramophone.co.uk, will feature excerpts from all of this year’s prize-winning albums. The media player - the first from a classical music magazine - features full-length recordings, podcasts, an extensive editor’s choice section and a selection of new recordings each month.  Subscribers are free to stream as much music as they wish.

Gramophone has been producing a series of podcasts supporting the Awards at www.gramophone.co.uk and during the month of August nearly 50,000 were downloaded.

Gramophone has also formed retail partnerships with Amazon, iTunes and many of the UK’s specialist retailers. iTunes is offering a free sampler featuring Award-winning recordings at www.itunes.com/gramawards.

Gramophone’s Awards issue is published on Friday 28 September with full information about the Awards and Award winners.

Twitter: #GramoAwards


                            

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Just in: Meet the new BBC New Generation Artists

For 14 years Radio 3's BBC New Generation Artists scheme has had a way of...well, getting it right. From Simon Trpceski to Benjamin Grosvenor, they've listened, noted and grabbed for promotion some of the best talents out there. The youngsters certainly have to earn their status with concerts and broadcasts. There's spotlight aplenty over the two years they're in it: it is a challenge and they must meet it. But many of those that do have gone on to be bright stars indeed.

The scheme includes a "cross-section" of musicians from both classical and jazz disciplines and from a variety of countries, and they have already gathered, between them, garlands of awards and distinctions.

This year's intake has just been announced. Here they are:

Tenor Robin Tritschler (Ireland)
Classical guitarist Sean Shibe (Scotland) (UK)
Jazz saxophonist Trish Clowes (UK) (above)
Cellist Leonard Elschenbroich (Germany) (left)
Clarinettist Mark Simpson (UK)
Apollon Musagete Quartet (Poland)
Violinist Elena Urioste (USA)

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Inside the Mind of Benjamin Grosvenor, with CNN



Good to see CNN taking on the story of a young British musician. In this thoughtful short film, Benjamin speaks with analytical acuity about what it really takes to be a pianist. It's from the channel's squirmishly-named 'Human to Hero' series.

Anyone who might think a C-list "celeb" can pick up some tips and perform on the piano in the usual hey-presto transformation for the telly had better think again.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Grosvenor gets animated

I know I've already made you sit and watch video stuff this morning, but I really can't resist this.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Benjamin goes for gold

The Prom was packed out last night for Benjamin Grosvenor's performance of the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No.2. "HEAVE!" shouts the arena as the piano lid goes up. "HO!" responds the gallery. Then the leader of the Royal Phil presses the A for the orchestra to tune up and everyone claps and claps and claps.

Now, different leaders respond to this little Proms tradition in different ways. Last year, the concertmaster of the Budapest Festival Orchestra had a field day on encountering it and looked ready to continue with an impromptu piano recital. Duncan, though, kept his back firmly turned upon the audience and stayed put. Perhaps he was trying to make the note heard amid the din. Could it be that it was, er, drowned out?

The concerto opens, as you know, with a cadenza - that florid, organ-like toccata that leads into the far-flinging first subject (which was kindly donated to the composer on request by his star pupil, one Gabriel Fauré, who'd dreamed it up for a Tantum Ergo he'd left unfinished). Then in came the orchestra...about an eighth-tone sharper than the piano.

Benjamin went for gold, unperturbed by the hit-and-miss noises going on around him. The best is the enemy of the good, and of the vaguely OK. It is, even more, the enemy of the seriously naff. Amid a rigid, why-bother-with-rubato accompaniment (come on, Maestro Dutoit, it's not illegal to let your hair down), abysmal intonation and all the usual balance problems of the RAH, the pianist's voice shone out as a sliver of truth: genuine, unsullied 100-carat musicality. The work's ferocious technical challenges flew past as though effortless - the concerto's popularity and the catchiness of its tunes somehow mean that its exposed writing, chock-full of finger-whirling yet melodic passagework, is not always appreciated. He took the closing tarantella at a terrific lick, and the gorgeous central scherzo barely touched the ground.

Though sporting a scarlet shirt, Benjamin isn't an overt showman - he has a modest air and no pretentions. Instead, the energy of his virtuosity goes where it needs to, straight into the piano. You use your ears first to appreciate it, and so you should. I sometimes call this syndrome 'Heifetz Face'. That great violinist gave away nothing in his facial expression and indulged in no physical histrionics while performing. He stood and delivered, highly concentrated, directing the energy into the music - and what came out sounded perfect. A lot of the finest musicians do something similar. Visit your local Alexander Technique teacher for a fuller explanation about the channelling of physical energy.

I can't help foreseeing a day - 15 years ahead, perhaps? - when Benjamin might wish to put together an orchestra of his own and start directing from the keyboard. Last year at the Proms, too, he had to perform with a sort of golf handicap in the form of a boxed-in conductor ill at ease with the romantic rhetoric and grand gestures of the work in question (that was Liszt No.2 - and Liszt was a prime influence on Saint-Saëns). And yesterday, once again, it was down to the encore - Godowsky's transcription of 'The Swan' from Saint-Saëns's Carnival of the Animals - to show what the pianist can really do in terms of limpid ebb and flow, songful, natural voicing and flowering musical instinct. It was pure magic.

Benjamin's half-hour of world-class pianism was sandwiched between a rarely heard Delius orchestral work, Paris: The Song of a Great City (pleasant, curious, rather forgettable) and a performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony so crass that several times I thanked heaven that I didn't have to review it for the paper. I am through with being nice to poor old orchestras because they're doing their best under difficult circumstances and all that. I've heard the RPO do a lot better than this on many occasions, so I know they can. Cringeing in the back row, I wished they would.

This wasn't a happy night for Team GB in the orchestral world. Up at the Edinburgh Festival, the LPO's Usher Hall concert - an ambitious bells-themed programme with Vlad at the helm - was cancelled at the last moment due to a massive power failure (Edinburgh's, not theirs). They spent a relaxing evening in the pub.